In line with the wishes of the people he harmed more than three years ago, Steven Ray Baca will not spend any more time in jail.
Baca, 34, is a failed Albuquerque City Council candidate and Trump supporter who brought a concealed handgun to a peaceful protest on June 15, 2020 at the statue depicting Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate called La Jornada at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque’s Old Town neighborhood.
No one showed aggression toward Baca that day, but video shows him come up from behind Vivian Norman, grab her shoulders and throw her to the ground, injuring her legs. He pleaded guilty to battery for this in September.
In court on Wednesday, Norman said she has experienced overwhelming pain and confusion since. What’s most telling about Baca’s attacks, she said, “is that he targeted only women, especially individuals smaller than him.”
“Baca was not acting in protection of anything, but rather he was taking out his frustrations on people he felt were easy targets,” Norman said.
Video shows Baca grab Julie Harris on her shoulder and head, and body slam her onto a concrete sidewalk. He pleaded no contest to aggravated battery causing great bodily harm for this attack.
“I so strongly believe that the violence that we show others is the violence that we cannot address toward ourselves – that we really feel toward ourselves,” Harris said.
Baca claimed he threw Harris to the ground because he “only intended to reach my friend,” but Second Judicial District Court Judge Brett Loveless corrected him, saying he did it “because he was angry.”
Harris said she will never get back the three-and-a-half years since the attack, which caused her profound depression and crippling anxiety. She said the crowd, including Scott Williams, acted reasonably when they tried to chase him away from the protest.
“Mr. Baca could have left,” Loveless said.
Video shows Baca shoot Williams four times in the back at close range with a .40-caliber handgun. Prosecutors initially charged Baca with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, but Special Prosecutor David Foster chose not to prosecute him for it.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
Baca pleaded guilty to unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon. It would have been legal for him to openly carry the gun, Loveless said.
Foster said Baca’s decision to bring a gun to a protest, lawful or not, was “a serious error in judgment.”
Diego Esquibel, one of Baca’s two private attorneys in the case, said his client “knew there was an issue” when he concealed his handgun, but he saw the crowd react negatively to New Mexico Civil Guard members who were openly carrying.
Although Baca and the New Mexico Civil Guard were not affiliated, local prosecutors said his actions contributed to the hostile environment created by the right-wing militia.
“He had a right to bring a gun, but it was not wise,” Loveless said.
Esquibel said Baca’s actions were “a one-time incident for him.” He said Baca only went to the protest because his friend attended.
Incarceration is not the answer
Williams has said putting Baca in prison would not change anything for the better. Baca’s two other victims and the judge came to similar conclusions Wednesday.
“I believe time behind bars will only make Baca more violent, and more likely to harm unsuspecting women,” Norman said.
“Prison time does not make people kinder or less violent,” Harris said. “I so strongly believe that the violence that we show others is the violence that we cannot address toward ourselves – that we really feel toward ourselves.”
Foster asked the judge to put Baca in prison for one year, and then put him on probation for another.
Loveless agreed with the victims, entirely suspending the sentence of two years minus one day in prison for the remaining charges against Baca.
“I do not believe incarceration would be fruitful or appropriate,” Loveless said.
Instead, Loveless sentenced Baca to anger management courses because of his “inability to control his temper.” He also sentenced him to whatever treatment will be required by the New Mexico Corrections Department Probation and Parole Division.
Under the terms of his probation, for the next two years Baca will not be allowed to consume any alcohol or illegal drugs, he cannot contact any witnesses or victims in the case and he cannot possess any guns.
Baca must also take regular drug tests, maintain full-time employment or education, volunteer for 250 hours, and tell his probation officer whenever he goes to work in Colorado.
He said in a written statement to the court he intends to move away from New Mexico.
Not the only Oñate monument shooting
Baca’s attacks came during a summer of protests in 2020 over the police murder of George Floyd, and the destruction or removal of more than 160 monuments to the Confederacy – including the removal of the Spanish colonial statues in Alcalde, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
A similar, more recent case in a different part of New Mexico was mentioned three times during Baca’s sentencing on Wednesday.
In that case, a man drove more than an hour from his home in the Foothills near Albuquerque to Española where he provoked a crowd, shot someone, assaulted someone else and fled south until he was stopped by a tribal police officer.
He had blamed Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller for what Baca did, and trolled online commentators expressing sadness at the violence. He is in jail until trial.
“I stand here to remind you that we will not be intimidated by acts of cowardice and violence,” Norman said.
Baca was initially held in jail for a week. Foster said putting Baca behind bars again would both punish him and deter others from doing what he did.
“It would send the message that you don’t bring guns to these sorts of encounters,” Foster said.
Harris said gun violence around statues in New Mexico is “a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed.”
“In this day and age, judge, we as a society have lots of political disagreements, but we cannot tolerate taking out those disagreements through violence,” said Tova Indritz, Norman’s attorney.
Norman said Baca’s attacks were acts of cowardice.
“Some of the other witnesses experienced attempts at intimidation from individuals who ideologically align with Baca,” she said. “Someone’s house was shot up and another witness had a man show up armed at his front door. I stand here to remind you that we will not be intimidated by acts of cowardice and violence.”
Source New Mexico’s National Editor Marisa Demarco did not assign, discuss or edit this story due to a conflict-of-interest concern.
Austin Fisher is a Senior Reporter at Source New Mexico. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Shaun Griswold for questions: email@example.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.